Excavating with explosives led to trouble on Tillotson’s Alta, Iowa, elevator

 

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Story by Neil A. Lieb and photos from the Neil A. Lieb Collection

I do not know exactly when the Alta job started, but I think it was in March or early April of 1950. At that time of the year the ground in Iowa is frozen two to three feet deep. Since the ground was frozen, the bulldozer could not dig the hole needed for the slab. So it was decided they would use dynamite to loosen the soil. I guess Superintendent Bill Russell had this approved by the town fathers and the police and fire chef. 

Neil A. Lieb, left, and Blaine Bell worked on the Alta, Iowa, elevator in 1950.

Neil A. Lieb, left, and Blaine Bell worked on the Alta, Iowa, elevator in 1950.

Now, remember, Alta is a very small town, maybe 900 to 1000 residents then.

It was decided to use one-quarter stick of dynamite at a depth of 18 to 24 inches. The first charge was set off and it loosened about six to seven feet of dirt so they repeated this procedure every six to eight feet.

After setting off several charges, someone decided that if one-quarter stick worked so well, one-half stick would loosen a bigger area. So they used one-half  stick for the next charge. When it was set off, the explosion was so loud that Bill came charging out of his office to find why at about the same time as the woman across the street came out of her house screaming that her china cabinet had fallen over and all her good china had been broken. 

Within a few minutes the mayor, fire and police chiefs, and most of the town council members showed up. I guess Bill was very busy trying explain. Once he’d calmed everyone down, they all left.

That was the end of the dynamiting. The next day everyone was swinging a pick.

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Newly discovered photos show Tillotson’s big Alta, Iowa, grain elevator in 1950

Neil A. Lieb collection

Photos contributed by Neil A. Lieb

Of the slew of elevators Tillotson Construction Company put up in 1950, the one at Alta, Iowa, could have been considered a typical job, although the photo above shows that a sign company must have gone to work sinking anchors in the headhouse for the raised lettering. Built in the small Buena Vista County town that sits at the highest point on the Chicago-Illinois Railroad in its crossing of the Hawkeye State, the elevator followed Tillotson’s established Palmer Plan, with eight tanks of 18 feet in diameter rising to 115 feet in height. There was a 13-foot-wide driveway passing through the house in an opening 15 feet high under four split bins. An additional note about the Palmer plan says, “Extra dist @ Cupola and on Cleaner Floor,” and we take the abbreviation to mean distribution.

Formwork as the Alta Cooperative's elevator rises in a continuous pour. Note the driveway door.

Formwork as the Alta Cooperative’s elevator rises in a continuous pour. Note the driveway door.

Here is the full list of specifications:

Capacity per Plans (with Pack) 246,070 bushels

Capacity per foot of height 2640 bushels

Reinforced concrete/plans (Total) 2082 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers) 49.6 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel/Plans (includes jack rods) 112.4 tons

Average steel per cubic yard of reinforced concrete 107/96 pounds

Steel & reinforced concrete itemized per plans

Below main slab 9419 lb/91 cu yd

Main slab 32,077 lb/272 cu yd

Drawform walls 142,070 lb/1424 cu yd

Work & driveway floor (including columns) 1485 lb/30 cu yd

Deep bin bottoms 6682 lb/47 cu yd

Overhead bin bottoms 7929 lb/40 cu yd

Bin roof (corner) 10150 lb/51 cu yd

Scale floor (complete) none

Cupola walls 9655 lb/88 cu yd

Distributor floor 1912 lb/10 cu yd

Cupola roof 2753 lb/15 cu yd

Miscellaneous (boot, leg, head, track sink, steps) 2560 lb/13 cu yd (a note here in the plans says “Cleaner floor”)

Elevator construction continued around the clock in a spectacle that must have awed the surrounding community.

Elevator construction continued around the clock in a spectacle that must have awed the community.

Construction details 

Main slab dimensions (Drive length first dimen.) 60 x 73.5 feet

Main slab area (actual outside on ground) 4101 sqare feet

Weight of reinforced (total) concrete (4000#/cu yd + steel) 4276 tons

Weight of plan concrete (hoppers 4000#/cu yd) 99 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3000#/cu yd) 708 tons

Weight of grain (at 60# per bushel) 7380 tons

Weight of structural steel & machinery 20 tons

Gross weight loaded 12,483 tons

Bearing pressure 3.04 tons per sq ft

Main slab thickness 24 inches

Main slab steel (bent) 1 in diameter at 7 inch o.c.

Tank steel at bottom (round tanks) 5/8 inch diameter at 6 inch o.c.

Lineal feet of drawform walls 762 feet including exterior

Height of drawform walls 115 feet

Pit depth below main slab 15 feet 0 inches

Cupola dimensions (W x L x Ht.) 23 x 61.5 x 39 feet

Pulley centers 161 feet

Number of legs 1

Distributor floor Yes

Track sink Yes

Full basement Yes

Electrical room Yes

Driveway width–clear 13 feet

Dump grate size 3 - 9 x 6 feet

Columns under tanks size 20 inches square

Boot — leg & head Concrete

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Machinery Details 

Boot pulley 72 x 14 x 2 3/16 inches

Head pulley 72 x 14 x 3 15/16 inches

R.P.M. head pulley 42 rpm

Belt 14 inch 6 ply Calumet

Cups 12 x 6 inch at 8 inch o.c. Howell

Head drive 40 horsepower

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturer rating) 8440 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80 percent of theoretical) 6750 bushels per hour

The finished elevator, before the headhouse windows were installed and whitewashing was done.

The finished elevator, before whitewashing and installation of the headhouse windows.

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity plus 15 percent for motor) 33 hp

Man lift 1.5 horsepower electric

Load out scale Two 25 bushel Rich.

Load out spout 10.75 inch W.C.

Cupola spouting 10-inch diameter 14 gauge

Truck lift 7.5 horsepower Ehr

Dust collector system Fan → Dust bin

Driveway doors Two overhead rolling

Conveyor 14-inch R.H. 3 hp.

A Tillotson elevator overlooks the 76th Dayton Championship Rodeo grounds

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The Dayton, Iowa, rodeo grounds bustle with activity for the championship event.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

The Dayton, Iowa, elevator is an especially handsome one, built in a typical Tillotson style. It is one of an overwhelming majority of Tillotson elevators that are still in use. It is quite an achievement to build something so enduring.

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Modern updates are evident in this view.

One of the secrets of the longevity of concrete elevators of this type is the ability to upgrade the machinery and to expand capacity. The elevators were built with the understanding that they would soon be filled and would need additional bins. The Tillotson Construction Company revisited certain sites over and over as they added concrete annexes and other improvements, while occasionally other companies won the contracts.

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The feed mill stands to the right.

You can see that the concrete elevator was retrofitted with an external leg. This modification is a safer design than the old internal one, because accumulated grain dust cannot come into contact with overheated machinery if a bearing or belt fails. Metal bins were added for additional capacity. A feed mill complements the storage facility, completing a one-stop shop for farmers.

The Dayton elevator’s original construction was not without trouble, however. Tillotson Construction Company was compelled to pay for repairs after the elevator cracked under its original grain load. The Farmers Elevator Company sued, according to the Farmers Elevator Guide, in 1954. The repairs were expertly done and the elevator still stands today.

Picking up the thread on screw jacks unravels some elevator fundamentals

Charles H. Tillotson 4

By Ronald Ahrens

These plans found in the Tillotson Construction Company archives show details of jack screw assembly and formwork, which were essential in the continuous pour method of building elevators, and they contain the key to unlocking the story of how screw jacks came into use.

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This key in is in the all-caps lettering “FOWELL SINKS JACK AND FORM.” A Web search reveals that “Fowell” is misspelled. Russell H. Folwell and William R. Sinks were Chicagoans who were granted patent 855452 for Apparatus for Raising Concrete Forms.

The patent application, filed with drawings (seen right) on Feb. 7, 1907, and awarded on June 4, 1907, stated,  “The invention relates to means for erecting concrete structures, and more particularly to apparatus for supporting and raising the forms or molds and the staging employed in building vertical concrete walls.”

The next year, the Canadian Stewart Company Ltd., of Montreal, started building the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway’s 3.5-million-bushel terminal elevator in Thunder Bay, Ont. Folwell was chief design engineer; Sinks supervised the construction. Work was finished in 1910.

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Docomomo Canada-Ontario, which is part of Docomomo International, the organization that advocates for the documentation and conservation of buildings, sites, and neighborhoods of the Modern Movement, says this:

“Folwell and Sinks experimented with their lifting device for concrete forms … in 1903-04. By the time the Grand Trunk was constructed, they had perfected their jackscrew lifting device, increased the amount of steel reinforcing and developed mechanical means for delivering the wet concrete to the construction site.”

Additionally: “The device allowed for speed in construction and resulted in smooth wall surfaces.”

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The Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, Volume 128, characterized the jack screw apparatus in a nine-point description.

Before perfecting the jack screw method, Sinks had been a proponent of tile construction for elevators, according to his grandson John Sinks, a genealogical researcher. He says his grandfather joined James Stewart & Company in 1905. For 108 years, between 1845 and 1953 (the company had come from Canada to the U.S. after the Civil War), Stewart was “one of North America’s most accomplished and longest-standing contractors,” the site of the National Building Museum tells us.  

Meanwhile, Nelson Machine Company, of Waukegan, Ill., appears to have been a manufacturer not only of screw jacks but also of pressing machines and irons.

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The elevator and its Tillotson annex preside in sleepy Dike, Iowa

The old elevator sits beside its wooden predecessor, as it did in 1946

The old elevator sits beside a wooden elevator, as it did in 1946

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

We took a number of elevator detours on our return home from a Nebraska trip, where we delivered our daughter to her summer veterinary camp. During the four-day program presented by Oxbow Animal Health, she learned the inner workings of a cow, and lovingly operated on and sutured a stuffed bunny. Apparently there is no such experience offered to children in Illinois.

The trip home was a meandering route with a number of switchbacks, with elevators built by Tillotson Construction, of Omaha, spaced every few miles. One elevator stop on our sojourn was Dike, Iowa, in the central part of the state. This fascinating site was the last one we saw before the light failed. We were racing a line of weather, and as the sun sank the clouds built and made for very flat light.

DSC_0721It is enlightening to see an elevator complex in person and compare it with an early photograph. The changes wrought in almost seventy years can be surprising, but even more unexpected can be the features that remain the same.

At Dike, you immediately notice a wooden structure behind the main structure. Strangely, it does not appear to be the same elevator that appears in the old photograph. Why would the co-op replace a wooden elevator with another one? The obvious answer would be a fire, but if wood was obsolete, why continue to build with that material?

In my travels, I have rarely come across a wooden elevator that was built before the 1940s and still in use today. Technology rendered the old ones obsolete, and wear and tear made them difficult to operate. Fire also took many of them. Now, wooden elevators built as late as the 1970s are coming down as more valuable uses are found for their wood, and as regulations make them harder to license.

The main house of Tillotson Construction's elevator at Dike, Iowa, built in 1946 (annex, left, 1949), is crowned by a rectilinear headhouse.

The main house of the elevator at Dike, Iowa, built in 1946 (Tillotson Construction’s annex, left, 1949), is crowned by a rectilinear headhouse.

Dike’s concrete elevator was built in 1946, and it came with an unusual (for Tillotson) headhouse. In the one place where we found a similar example, at St. Francis, Kan., the elevator built by J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, sported a rectilinear headhouse. Though it was replaced much later, early pictures show that the St. Francis headhouse was built in that style.

Both the old Omaha company and its later offshoots preferred curved architecture because it was more economical to build.

So the Dike elevator was a non-typical construction, and we know from its early photo that it started out that way. Since we have no record of it in our Tillotson company records, we have to assume it was built by another company. But the Omaha company led by Reginald Tillotson built the annex.

DSC_0702Tillotson Construction arrived on scene in 1949 to add the annex just three years after the main house was built. In the late 1940s, when elevators were filled just as fast as they could be built, annexes sprung up almost before the concrete cured on the original elevators.

The Dike, Iowa, annex specifications

Capacity per plans (with pack): 200,700 bushels

Capacity per foot of height: 1,859

Reinforced concrete per plans (total): 1,255 cubic yards

Plain concrete (hoppers): 3 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel (including jack rods): 73.56 tons

Average steel per cubic yard of concrete: 117.2 pounds

Steel and reinforced concrete per plans:

Below main slab: None

Main slab: 23,665 pounds steel and 218 cubic yards concrete

Drawform walls: 94,152 pounds steel and 880 cubic yards concrete

Work and drying floor: None

Deep bin bottoms: None

Overhead bin bottoms: 18,156 pounds steel and 56 cubic yards concrete

Bin roof: 4,223 pounds steel and 32 cubic yards concrete

Scale floor: None

Distributor floor: 3,570 pounds steel and 30 cubic yards concrete

Cupola roof: Steel included in above amount, and 21 cubic yards concrete

Misc. (Boot, leg, head, track sink, steps, etc.): 500 pounds steel and 4 cubic yards concrete

Attached driveway (for Dike plans, lower tunnel indicated here): 363 pounds steel and 14 cubic yards concrete

Construction details

Main slab dimensions: 46 1/2′ x 68′

Main slab area (actual outside on ground): 2,955 square feet

Weight reinforced (total) Concrete (4000 pounds per cubic yard) plus steel: 2,583 tons

Weight plain concrete (hoppers 4000 pounds per cubic yard): 6 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3000 pounds per cubic yard): 25 tons

Weight of grain (60 pounds per bushel): 6,021 tons

Weight of structural steel and machinery: 5 tons

Gross weight loaded: 8,640 tons

Bearing pressure: 2.93 tons per square inch

Main slab thickness: 24″

Main slab steel (size and spacing): 1″ diameter,  5 1/2″ o. c.

Tank steel and bottom–round tanks (size and spacing): 5/8″ diameter, 9″ o. c.

Lineal feet of drawform walls: 400′ (no drive)

Height of drawform walls: 120′

Pit depth below main slab: None

Cupola dimensions (outside width x length x height): 13′ x 93′ x 8′

Pulley centers: None

Number of legs: None

Distributor Floor: None

Track sink: None

Full Basement: Yes

Electrical room: In elevator

Driveway width: None

Dump grate size: None

Columns under tanks: 4 columns 16″ square

Boot Leg and Head: None

Machinery details

Top conveyor: 30″ belt at 500 bushels per minute; 7,800 bushels per hour; 10 horsepower drive; Howell tripper.

Bottom Conveyor: 24″ belt at 600 bushels per minute; 5,800 bushels per hour; 7 1/2 horsepower drive

Remarks

Also built: Extended driveway on elevator

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A photographic review of concrete elevator parts and components

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Some time ago, one of our readers requested the picture of an elevator pit. It is one of the more unglamorous parts of a grain elevator, but as I was going through old photos, I found one. I also found many interior elevator pictures that have not made it to the blog because of their, well, unattractiveness. But a review of the parts and pieces, terms and descriptions, and interior appearance of an elevator is in order.

 The Pit

Pit access by ladder. The leg is visible.

Pit access by ladder. The leg is visible. Hanover, Kan.

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Sloped bottom funnels grain to the base of the leg.

The Dump Grate

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A smaller grate.

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Center driveway truck grates.

The Driveway

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McCook, Neb.

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St. Francis, Kan.

The Man Lift

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The bottom of the lift showing the shaft.

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Current safety regulations require a retrofitted cage.

Overhead bin spouts

Bins are numbered to correspond with the bin diagram

Bin Diagram

St. Francis, Kan.

St. Francis, Kan.

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This elevator holds beans in two overhead bins.

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The bins hold milo, and “F” means the bin is full.

The Leg

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Cup dimensions and spacing are given in elevator specifications.

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The leg conveys grain from the pit to the top of the bins.

Manhole Cover

Traer, Kan.

Traer, Kan.

 

An unlikely connection to Tillotson’s elevator in Elkhart, Kansas

photo

By Ronald Ahrens

“Oh, look at the funny building!”

So might a visitor from Southern California say after driving 1300 miles to Elkhart, Kan., in order to celebrate a niece’s graduation.

As it turns out, that visitor keeps bar at my club.

I heard her say she had been to Kansas.photo-1

“Where in Kansas? Atchison? Topeka?”

“Oh, nowhere. Elkhart.”

(They went across the Oklahoma border to have some fun. She won’t send the photo of herself dancing on the pool table.)

“Really? My grandfather built the Elkhart grain elevator, starting in 1945. I hope you took a picture.”

As it turns out, as you see, she took two.

Some day, I’ll explain everything she wants to know about reinforced concrete construction, surface bearing load, elevator motor speed, and storage annexes.

Meantime, we have all this.

Thank you, Shirin.

 

 

Insights from a Ralston, Iowa, elevator maintenance worker

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At the far left edge of the photo, the annex can be seen behind the similarly sized elevator.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

Each time we travel to Nebraska to see our family, I try to investigate elevators, and the kids groan and roll their eyes, pulling electronic entertainment out of their backpacks.

In March, our trip home warranted a stop at Ralston, Iowa, where we hoped to see an annex built by Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha as we trekked eastbound along U.S. Highway 30. Ralston is about midway across the state and lies south of the highway, and is the site of one of the projects documented in Tillotson company records.

The West Central Cooperative elevator complex, silent and lofty, rimmed the edge of town as we approached on a bright Sunday afternoon. Not a soul was in sight as we entered the parking lot near the cooperative headquarters. But a car in front of the office building was open with a shopvac beside it. Someone had to be around.

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A much larger group of elevators was behind me, away from the town, as I took the photo.

The elevator group in Ralston is dominated by a large squarish elevator, a multi-bin elevator, and a large, multi-bin, rectangular annex snugged in beside the latter. Between the first elevator and the second is an old wood elevator which immediately attracted my attention. It made a fine photographic subject. While shooting the scene, I looked for signs of a Tillotson project. Nowhere was there any manhole cover with the name of a builder. And no one was present who could give me a look inside.

The annex, slightly narrow than the elevator, is on the left

The annex, slightly narrower than the elevator, is on the left.

In fact, the deserted elevator group so dominated the town, along with its companion group of elevators a mile or so down the tracks, that it seemed intimidating to go near it. So I stood off and took photos from across the street.

DSC_6001Heavy rail traffic attended the tracks alongside the elevators in spite of the sleepy Sunday. I counted several trains, blaring their arrival as they passed through town.

At last, a fellow emerged from the cooperative building and commenced vacuuming the company car. I approached him to ask him about the elevators. Ron Hickey, of Farnhamville, Iowa, waved a friendly greeting. He said he was a bit of a newcomer to the Ralston site, but had worked at Boxholm, Iowa, the site of another Tillotson elevator, for two years before coming here. He said that Boxholm’s elevator had 96 florescent light bulbs, and until recently, he was responsible for cleaning every one of them.

Presently, he was cleaning one of several company vehicles parked in front of the nicely appointed offices. The place had every sign of prosperity. Ron said West Central was one of the largest cooperatives in Iowa, and was very successful.

Once we arrived home, I had to resort to the company records to positively identify Tillotson Construction’s contribution to the site. The specifications for Ralston fit the size of the annex I had seen–a massive structure about twice the size of the average elevator project. Since this structure was an annex, many items normally included in a complete elevator build were not required. The Tillotson construction details are reproduced below.

The Ralston storage was built in 1953 using the “Ralston Plan,” which had eight 28′ diameter, 115′ tall bins with a 2′ spread, flat bottoms, and a screw conveyor.

Capacity per plans: 537,000 bushels

Capacity per foot of height: 4,838 bushels

Reinforced concrete per plans (total): 2,779 cubic yards

Plain concrete (4″ hoppers and liner): 9 cubic yards

Reinforcing steel per plans (includes jack rods): 168.18 tons

Average steel per cubic yard of reinforced concrete: 121.00 lbs.

Steel and reinforced concrete itemized per plans

Below main slab: steel 3,128 lbs.; concrete 29 cubic yards

Main slab: steel 102,340 lbs.; concrete 606 cubic yards

Draw form walls: steel 203,034 lbs.; concrete 1,920 cubic yards

Driveway and work floor: not installed

Deep bin bottoms: not installed

Overhead bin bottoms: steel 4,666 lbs.; concrete 24 cubic yards

Bin roofs and extension roofs: steel 14,284 lbs.; concrete 112 cubic yards

Cupola walls: steel 8,907 lbs.; concrete 20 cubic yards

Distributor floor: concrete 2 cubic yards (steel included in above total)

Cupola roof: concrete 3 cubic yards (steel included in above total)

Miscellaneous (boot, leg, head, track sink, steps, etc.): not installed

Attached driveway (in this plan, a gallery, with cross tunnel not included): concrete 63 cubic yards (steel included in above total)

DSC_6010Construction details

Main slab dimensions: 66 2/3′ x 121 2/3′

Main slab area (actual outside on ground): 7,738 square feet

Weight reinforced concrete (4,000 lbs. per cubic yard plus steel): 5,726 tons

Weight plain concrete (4,000 lbs. per cubic yard): 18 tons

Weight hopper fill sand (3,000 lbs. per cubic yard): 154 tons

Weight of grain (60 lbs. per bushel): 16,125 tons

Weight structural steel and machinery: 20 tons

Gross weight loaded: 22,043 tons

Bearing pressure: 2.86 tons per square foot

Main slab thickness: 24 inches

Main slab steel (size and spacing): straight; 1 1/4 square inches and 8 inches o. c.

Tank steel and bottom (round tanks): 5/8 inch diameter and 6 inches

Lineal feet of draw form walls and extension: 717 feet 7 inches; 39 feet 6 inches

Height of draw form walls: 115 feet

Pit depth below main slab: 9 feet 6 inches

Cupola dimensions (outside width and length and height): 12′ x 14′ x 20′

Pulley centers: 137 1/2 feet

Number of legs: 1 main (see pulley center above) and 1 jack

Distributor flow: yes

Track sink: no

Full basement: no

Electrical room: no.

Driveway width-clear: not installed

Dump grate-size: not installed

Columns under tanks: not installed

Boot–leg and head: steel

Machinery details

Head pulley (main leg): 48″ x 16″ x 4 15/16″

Boot pulley: 48″ x 13″ x 2 3/16″

RPM head pulley: 48 rpm

Belt: 15″-6 ply calumet

Cups: 14″ x 7″ at 10″

Head drive: Howell 40 horsepower: 3

Theoretical leg capacity (cup manufacturer’s rating): 7,950 bushels per hour

Actual leg capacity (80% of theoretical): 6,350 bushels per hour

Horsepower required for leg (based on above actual capacity): 26.4 horsepower

Man lift: not installed

Load out scale: not installed

Load out spout: not installed

Truck lift: not installed

Dust collector system: fan into bin

Cupola spouting: not installed

Driveway doors: not installed

Conveyor: 24 inch screws

Also built

Track scale: 50 foot, 50 ton: concrete 35 cubic yards

 

 

 

 

Charles H. Tillotson straddled the divide between wood and concrete

Charles H. Tillotson

By Ronald Ahrens

My Great-grandfather Charles H. Tillotson may have been following his trade by instinct, but he opened the way for descendants to distinguish themselves in the business of elevator construction.

I know the Tillotsons saw themselves primarily as carpenters. My Uncle Charles J. Tillotson went to work as an apprentice carpenter for Tillotson Construction, which was founded after the death of his grandfather Charles. My Uncle Michael Tillotson learned carpentry on through the family business and worked as a carpenter throughout his career. When I helped him finish concrete sidewalks on a couple of side jobs in the 1970s, he preached a gospel that carpenters could do it all, whether it be concrete or painting. And in elevator construction, it was true.

Charles H. Tillotson was born in Brunswick, Mo., in 1880. He married Rose Brennan in Riverside, Iowa.

He and my Great-grandmother Rose had an apparently cozy life in Omaha with their three grown children, Joseph, Reginald, and Mary, all of whom became involved in elevator construction. Kristen Cart’s research has found the Tillotsons listed in the 1930 census. They lived at 624 N. 41st.

A 1936 city directory listed Charles H. as president of Van Ness Construction, a company that built mills and elevators. Joseph served as secretary-treasurer and Reginald was a foreman. Mary worked as a clerk-typist at the Federal Land Bank.

Charles_Tillotson_Obit__The_Nebraska_State_Journal__Lincoln__Nebr___19_June_1938

By then, Reginald was married to my grandmother, Margaret Irene McDunn Tillotson. Their firstborn Charles J., had arrived in 1935, followed the next year by my mother, Mary Catherine.

Uncle Tim Tillotson, the middle of their three sons between Charles J. and Michael (who was born in a home-built house trailer at a Smith Center, Kan., job site), says a story exchanged among the uncles was that Great-grandfather Charles H. would tell Reginald, “Put out that cigarette,” when they were working on jobs. The danger of fire was constant. How ironic, then, that Charles H. held a cigarette for his portrait.

After the death of paterfamilias Charles H., the Tillotson Construction Company was formed by Reginald, Joseph, and Mary. We would love to learn more about how this proceeded.

Meanwhile, the transition to slip-formed concrete construction was under way, with the Tillotsons’ carpentry skills being readily applied to the formwork.

A tale from the Johnson Construction elevator at Galatia, Kansas

DSC_0582 copy Blencoe

Blencoe, Iowa

Story by Kristen Cart

Once again, one of our readers has supplied a fascinating glimpse into the construction of an elevator.

Emily Frank is the granddaughter of Darrell Greenlee, a foreman for Johnson and Johnson-Sampson. She related a story about the beginnings of the Galatia, Kan., grain elevator:

The Post Crescent 26 Mar 1959My grandfather built slipform concrete grain elevators while my mom was little. My grandparents moved around every three to six months from the time they were married until my mom (the third of six children) was in third grade. I find a lot of your stories remind me of the ones my mom told or my grandmother tells. You did one where a man fell to his death from an elevator during construction. Unfortunately that happened on a job where my grandfather was the foreman, as well…

My grandfather worked for Virgil Johnson. At the time the company was Johnson Elevator Company.

At a job in Galatia, Kan., in 1959, while Darrell was stabilizing the family trailer, it fell and he was hit across his back and shoulders. Rosina took him to the hospital. The hospital wasn’t going to see him until she could pay. She didn’t have insurance. She told them instead, “I’ve got enough money to buy this damn hospital.” When they left two days later, she paid cash.

Rosina called Virgil to tell him that Darrell had been hurt–not bad but he was pretty bruised up. Rosina wasn’t sure what they were going to do. She told Virgil she wanted to know what he was going to do because if Darrell didn’t work, he didn’t get paid. Virgil asked if his butt was bruised and then pointed to a chair and said “See that chair right there, he can park his ass right there and supervise from his chair.”

When the elevator was just about completed a man fell from the top of the elevator. Darrell was a witness to the fall. The guy opened the door at the top and the wind caught him and blew him over the side of the elevator. He fell 120 feet to his death. The man was Arthur Kronberg, 42, originally from Menasha, Wisconsin.

Rosina said when they called the man’s brother to tell him he could come pick up his belongings, he didn’t seem very interested, except he asked if there was anything of value. They had told him his brother had a truck. The man reluctantly agreed to get the truck.

Emily filled in some of the details of her grandfather’s career. The history of Johnson Elevator Company that she shared intrigued us, because the company took up where Mayer-Osborn Company left off and built strikingly similar elevators. The Galatia elevator is a close copy of the Mayer-Osborn elevators at McCook, Neb., and Blencoe, Iowa. Because of the similarities between them and a number of other Johnson elevators, we have speculated whether designer Gene Mayer continued his career with Virgil Johnson and brought his designs with him. Emily continued:

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Page City, Kan.

The elevator at Galatia is on one of Johnson’s business cards.

Johnson used to work with some brothers with the last name Sampson. They were Virgil Johnson’s brothers-in-law. They worked together for a while, too, under the name Johnson-Sampson.

My grandfather worked constructing concrete elevators from 1947 to about 1963. He worked for several different people.

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Mitchellville, Iowa.

Johnson was the man he worked for most, on and off over the years. When Virgil and his brothers-in-law split, my grandfather went to work for Dewey Construction and then Young Love. Then Virgil found a partner, and my grandfather worked for Johnson & Bratcher. Then Virgil went off on his own as Johnson Elevator Company.

When Virgil went broke after a missile base job in the 1960s, my grandfather worked for a guy by the name of Guy James. He did two jobs for him until he finally settled in Rushville, Ill. He never built another elevator, but he had his own company and they did a lot of elevator repair work.

My own grandfather William Osborn’s experience followed a similar trajectory–after he was done with elevator construction, he went on to elevator repair and maintenance. We always attributed the cancer that took him at age 75 to the dust he breathed during those years, though some of the damage could have been from smoking, a habit he dropped ten years before he died.

The hazards of the business were sometimes obvious, but often stealthy and unexpected. From dust, to wind, to new boots, to heedless roofers, many things in elevator construction took lives–but the monuments built by these mortal men remain, withstanding tornadoes, floods, hail, and every natural disaster.